The Gambling White Paper: Score draw?

By Charlie Napier, Founder Partner

It took its time but finally the Gambling White Paper arrived late last month. For those of us who have been working in the gambling sector since the 2005 Gambling Act, the wait for the White Paper outlining the results of a Review of that Act has been a very long time coming.

Since the Review was launched two and a half years ago, there has been intense campaigning from the industry and reformers, all desperate to catch the attention of the ever-changing gambling Ministers, Culture Secretaries and indeed Prime Ministers we have had over that time.  I can look back on emails from Summer 2021 discussing the potential imminent publication of the White Paper and I know I am not the only one who had been waiting with bated breath for the day to come.

So, two weeks on from its publication, what do we make of it now that the dust has settled?

The first thing to note is that the dust settled remarkably quickly. Because of the extensive pitch rolling by the government and campaigners, not a great deal of it turned out to be much of a surprise, and so the main focus was on the amount of consultations and likely timeline for delivery of the proposals. Gambling reform campaigners and MPs like Carolyn Harris will be pleased that a financial levy on gambling companies saw the light of day, having thought that the idea had been dropped under a previous prime ministerial regime, but a full ban on gambling advertising would have been what so many wanted originally. Intense lobbying from the racing industry ensured that affordability checks have been watered down, but there is still concern in the industry on the new proposals.  

However, if you were to go back in time a year ago with a copy of today’s White Paper and ask advocates on either side whether they are happy with it, most would have been disappointed. The passage of time and politics has dampened the dismay and the real issue now is whether many of these proposals see the light of day before an Autumn 2024 General Election and if not, whether gambling will be a priority for a new Government.

With the Government saying they would like to get most proposals in place by Summer 2024, we may see a Gambling Bill announced in an Autumn 2023 King’s Speech which would give it a chance of getting through. Who knows, we may even see history repeated with a similar situation to 2005, when the Gambling Bill was rushed through before that year’s General Election.

But political parties have a lot of other priorities, and gambling gets a passing mention in the Labour Parties latest draft manifesto, so it remains all to play for and the lobbying from both sides will be as intense as ever. For those who were hoping that the White Paper’s publication would end all the to-ing and fro-ing, I’m afraid we still have a long way to go as the politics of the issue and the tight political timetable means that this is only the end of the beginning.

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